The following article was originally published by our sister site, Big Think+.
Business leaders know they must prepare for technological upheavals in the years ahead. But keeping up-to-date on new technologies—to say nothing of understanding their complexities and forecasting those shifts—is an overwhelming task.
To help organizations find their footing, the CompTIA Emerging Technology Community releases an annual list of the top 10 emerging technologies. What makes this list special is that it focuses on “which emerging technologies have the most potential for near-term business impact.”
Here are CompTIA’s picks along with a quick encapsulation of each technology and some potential business use cases.
The holy grail of artificial intelligence research is general AI, a machine that is self-aware and commands intelligence equal to a person’s. These theoretical systems would be our intellectual equals—well, until v2.0 drops and we fall to a distant second.
Until then we have narrow AI, which are systems that perform very specific tasks. That may seem too limited, but narrow AI already powers systems like SPAM filters, Google Maps, and virtual assistants such as Siri. And its use cases are projected to diversify even more.
As Max Tegmark, physicist and machine-learning researcher, told Big Think in an interview: “What we’re seeing now is that machine intelligence is spreading out a little bit from those narrow peaks and getting a bit broader.”
Chatbots, logistics, self-driving cars, virtual nursing assistants, personalized textbooks and tutors, and even artificial creativity: These are just a few of the applications that narrow AI can improve or bring to light in the coming years.
5G and the Internet of Things
5G may not seem very exciting. We already have 4G, so what’s another G? But the difference will be exponential. 5G networks may ultimately be 100 times faster than 4G, allowing many more devices to connect, reducing latency to practically zero, and providing more reliable signals.
This wireless technology will provide the backbone for the internet of things (IoT), which will expand the power of the internet beyond computers and across a wide range of objects, processes, and environments. The IoT is the keystone technology for such futuristic scenes as smart cities, robot-driven agriculture, and self-driving highway systems.
For businesses, this one-two combo will continue recent trends and power them to the next level. Remote offices become more dependable under the 5G paradigm, and real-time data sharing of, say, live events or desktop captures will be seamless. As for the IoT, it helps remove intermediate steps that bog down productivity. Why have someone waste their time collecting data from the factory floor when the factory floor can collect, curate, and send it to them?
Serverless computing isn’t truly “serverless.” Sans tapping into some seriously dark arts, it’s impossible to provide computational resources without a physical server somewhere. Instead, this technology distributes those resources more effectively. When an application is not in use, no resources are allocated. When they are needed, the computing power auto-scales.
This technological shift means companies no longer need to worry over infrastructure or reserving bandwidth, which in turn promises the golden ticket of ease of use and cost savings.
As Eric Knorr, editor in chief of International Data Group Enterprise, writes: “One of the beauties of this architecture is that you get charged by the cloud provider only when a service runs. You don’t need to pay for idle capacity—or even think about capacity. Basically, the runtime sits idle waiting for an event to occur, whereupon the appropriate function gets swapped into the runtime and executes. So you can build out a big, complex application without incurring charges for anything until execution occurs.”
Biometrics allows a system to recognize users by biological markers such as their face, voice, or fingerprint. Many people already have one or several of these on their laptops and smartphones, but as the technology improves and becomes more ubiquitous, it may finally end the password paradigm.
Because most people have inefficient passwords, use the same one for every account, and never change them, hackers typically need only one hit to enjoy carte blanche over someone’s personal and professional data. Even those who do passwords correctly can find managing the system a nightmare.
For these reasons, biometrics promises much-needed security of sensitive data. A fingerprint is much more difficult to hack with raw computational power than a password, and that difficulty is increased by magnitudes when multiple markers are used in tandem.
With hardware costs lowering, processing power increasing, and high-profile players such as Google and Facebook entering the game, virtual reality’s day may have finally come. And the more widespread acceptance of augmented reality apps in smartphones may make such technologies an easier sell moving forward.
The recently announced Microsoft Mesh and its competitors hope to capitalize on our new remote-work era. The concept combines these “mixed-reality” technologies to create virtual shared spaces that business teams can use to hold meetings or work on projects.
And Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, imagines this technology can revolutionize the customer experience in retail. Customers could, for example, try clothes on a virtual avatar or sit in their amphitheater seats before making a purchase.
It may be surprising that Bitcoin, the much-hyped cryptocurrency, didn’t make the list. But the technology’s online ledger, the blockchain, has supplanted the digital denomination as the rising business star.
Unlike traditional, centralized records, a blockchain is decentralized. The permanent record is not stored in one location but exists on nodes spread across the system. This design makes it difficult to lose records or tamper with them.
As tech entrepreneur Elad Gil told Big Think in an interview: “[Blockchain] systems are effectively censorship proof or seizure resistant. In other words, the government can’t come and take your asset if you’re in a country that has very bad governance, or it means that no third party can suddenly, accidentally erase your data, or you can’t hack a third party to access your data (although obviously, you can still hack a blockchain).”
This is why blockchain has caught the attention of organizations that need to store records (i.e., all organizations). And the potential use cases are impressive. Blockchain could be used by hospitals to store and share health records. It could underpin a secure online voting platform. It could track logistics across international supply chains. And, of course, there are numerous applications for cybersecurity, too.
The first industrial robot punched the clock in 1962. Technological advancements have steadily widened robotics’ workforce representation since, and in the coming years, robots will continue moving from factories to First Street to perform rudimentary tasks such as cleaning and delivery.
Such advancements have kept the Luddite fires burning for more than a century now, so one challenge faced by organization leaders will be reassuring their teams that the robots aren’t here to replace them. In fact, as more people move into soft-skilled, human-focused jobs, they’ll likely find the transition a beneficial one.
“Introducing robots into a workplace can be a complex and dynamic undertaking. While it may start with workers feeling like their jobs are being threatened, the end result is a warehouse full of happier, healthier humans who remain the centerpiece of a competitive business,” writes Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics, for the World Economic Forum.
Natural Language Processing
Natural language processing is a subfield of AI that aims to develop systems that can analyze and communicate through human language. Sound easy? If so, it’s only because you’re reading these words with a mind endowed by evolution with the gift of language.
Algorithms aren’t so lucky. They have trouble parsing the eclectic hodgepodge of symbols, gestures, sounds, and cultural cues that we use to express meaning and ideas.
“There’s an obvious problem with applying deep learning to language. It’s that words are arbitrary symbols, and as such they are fundamentally different from imagery. Two words can be similar in meaning while containing completely different letters, for instance; and the same word can mean various things in different contexts,” writes Will Knight for MIT Technology Review.
When algorithms finally crack language, the business use cases will be substantial. Think chatbots, virtual editors, market analysis, instant translation of live conversations, resume readers, and phone auto-attendants that don’t send every caller into a rage.
Quantum computing is “the exploitation of collective properties of quantum states, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform computation.” Translation: It solves problems faster and more accurately—in some cases, ones that stump even modern supercomputers.
While we shouldn’t expect the quantum PC any time soon, we can expect quantum computers to become the backbone for the emerging technologies listed above. These machines already exist today, and IBM has announced plans to build a 1,000 qubit version by 2023, a milestone physicist Jay Gambetta told Science would reflect an “inflection point.”
Adoption of this technology could make big data more manageable. It could cut costly and complex development time through speedy simulations and solve multivariable optimization problems with ease. Finally, it may make currently intractable problems manageable, such as those faced in the processing of natural language.
Quantum computing also illustrates why it’s important that organizational leaders don’t develop tunnel vision. To focus on one emerging technology or one model of the future is to risk your company’s well-being. It’s not a question of which technology will dominate, but the potentials each technology brings and how they may work together.
“The innovation that will be delivered by these technologies, especially as I said, when they’re leveraged in tandem, will be staggering over the next few years and will enable customer solutions that will actually have paradigm shifting impact for those that act on them,” Mike Haines, chair of the Emerging Technology Community’s executive council, said on the CompTIA Biz Tech podcast.
Navigating these technological shifts will certainly challenge business leaders for years to come. But by keeping an open mind to the possibilities, they can chart a path that predicts dangers and capitalize on these emerging technologies.
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